Did any of you recently hear a suspicious “bump” in the middle of the night? Like something big and soft hitting the floor?
If you did, it was me getting rid of some strange bedfellows that had piled in on me. For several months now I have found myself in partial agreement with The Chicago Tribune, Christian News, the Lutheran Free Press, and other such examples of movable type(s). Last night I woke up screaming and, with one fell swoop, tossed the lot of them onto the floor. I had finally had it with them. I want no more slanted journalism, no more half truths, no more oversimplified answers to complex questions, no more pious neutrality in the midst of great storms.
Of course (before some discerning reader suggests it), I probably should have kicked myself out of bed too. My only excuses for not doing so were and are:
a) It is a little hard to do, and
b) I have never pretended to be half true or piously neutral.
I do not know enough to see both sides of things. Every time I read the “Letters to the Editor” in the publications mentioned above I get all mixed up — more so, that is, than usual. “Somebody,” I say to myself, “must be wrong about this matter, but I can’t tell who.” And with that admission of defeat — or victory — I push them a little closer to the final judgment seat.
That night before I retired again to my restless pillow I remembered the late Westbrook Pegler’s famous remark in similar circumstances. He had said some thing somewhere which evoked appreciative applause from the Far Left. In his next column Pegler roared: “Gimme my pants! I’m in the wrong bed.”
I must confess that it is tough for me to carry through this purge. I have lived with these fellows journalists of mine so long that I have a certain respect for them. And, inasmuch as many of them share with me the washing of Baptism, I look forward to the prospect of spending eternity in their company. But here — her and now — they trouble me. Often I have wondered what Luther meant when he told Zwingli at Marburg: “You have another spirit.” Is this really the problem? The mind boggles — a “spirit” which fits neither time nor eternity! I must turn this over to the final Judge or go mad.
Perhaps in its nature journalism requires a certain moral flexibility. I would guess that about 80 per cent of the “student restlessness” stuff and an almost equal amount in the church journals of the “Armageddon syndrome” in the various intra-church quarrels are creations of the mass media. Armed with a TV cam era and microphone, the electronic journalist approaches some second-year seminarian with the honeyed words: “Just a brief statement for KNUT.” There are other students standing around who have some wise and thoughtful things to say, but the media boys have an unerring instinct for the man who walks the earth with his foot in his mouth. Whereupon, in answer to the question, our youthful brother says: “We are reacting against the system that brought us here.” Whereupon the networks, the newspapers, and even the church journals give the young man nation-wide coverage.
The whole business leaves me aghast. This young man is nothing but his old man plus three courses in Greek. He will make more sense a few years from now when he has .learned that systems are good or bad, depending on the use to which people put them. But his “we are rebels against the system” is a sorry business. Yet his words of wisdom race across the wires as though they were a new-found Gospel.
The First Amendment allows broad latitude to the expression of opinion, however wild, however ill-found ed. But in these days when so many are appealing to a higher law, let me claim that right, too. There is a law, recommended by the Highest Authority, to which even journalists are bound. It says something about “speaking the truth in love.” I commend it to the attention of the strange bedfellows who have made me more than a little ashamed of my profession as a journalist.